Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sundays with Steve - Arizona Haboobs - part 2

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny.


A month ago we talked about the large and frequent dust storms in Arizona after you saw the world-wide media coverage of one of these summer storms. Called “haboobs”, a number of you had questions, and here in Arizona lots of people took umbrage at the term “haboob”, saying such foreign words should not be used in America, they should be left at the border along with all the illegal immigrants who come across. Those whiners were clobbered as narrow-minded ninnies in letters-to-the-editor over the following weeks.

I find haboobs quite interesting, and wanted to share the following piece with you about where the term haboobs may have come from. Recall that these storms are common here in Arizona each summer, the result of massive thunderstorms that are created by our exceptionally high heat and mid-summer humidity.

by Richard Ruelas - The Arizona Republic

Forty years ago, a group of scientists witnessed an Arizona dust storm so huge that they proposed calling it a haboob, the term used for the infamous dust storms in Sudan.

Those people were not outsiders; they were Arizona scientists.

Their article, "An American Haboob," was printed in the October 1972 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. It argued that the dust storms in Phoenix were similar to those around Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

"Although much less frequent than the Sudanese haboobs," the article said, "they are equally as dramatic."

The dust storms formed, the article said, through a series of storm cells that intensify as they move from the Santa Cruz Valley into Phoenix. The cells are so close to one another that they "merge in what appears to be a solid wall of dust, reported by aircraft to extend upward to 8,000 feet."

The article was written by Sherwood Idso, Robert Ingram and J.M. Pritchard. Idso was with the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix. Ingram was the head meteorologist with the National Weather Service . Pritchard's title could not be determined.

The article contained a detailed study of a dust storm on July 16, 1971, saying it displayed "classic haboob characteristics."

Wind speed, a rise in humidity and a drop in air temperature all were in line with what one would expect from a dust storm in Sudan, the article said. The Arizona storm lasted about 48 minutes, and pilots reported the dust cloud reaching 8,000 feet.

"Thus, it would appear from all of the accumulated evidence that the Arizona dust storm of 16 July 1971 was as good an example of a true haboob as those that occur in the Sudan," the article said.

About half of the dust storms that pass through Phoenix qualify as haboobs, the article said, citing data and "the personal knowledge of weather observers who have been stationed here for several years."

"Haboob" was the second Arabic term Robert Ingram introduced to describe Arizona weather. According to Ingram's son, also named Robert, the meteorologist introduced "monsoon" to the state, convincing Channel 12's then-weatherman, Frank Peddie, to incorporate it in forecasts in the 1950s.

Ingram also came up with the then-marker of the monsoon season's start: three consecutive days with a dew point above 55 degrees. The start of the monsoon season has since been changed to June 15, regardless of air conditions.

Although "monsoon" caught on in the 1950s, "haboob" didn't catch on in the 1970s.

Dewey Hopper, who was Channel 12's weatherman from 1973 to 1984, said in an e-mail that he remembers using "haboob" on the air after learning the word from an Arabic friend. Hopper used "haboob" on the air partly for a giggle. After he said it, his co-anchor, Linda Alvarez, "just about fell off her chair," he wrote.

"I figured if they could call our seasonal storms 'monsoons' - Arabic for seasonal wind," he wrote, "then I could use the Arabic word for dust storm."

A non-exhaustive survey of The Republic's microfiche archives did not unearth uses of "haboob" during the 1970s. The paper's electronic archives, which date to 1986, show one use of "haboob" in 1988, then not again until July 1999. That story quoted Sean McLaughlin, then the meteorologist for Channel 12 (KPNX), using "haboob" to describe an enormous dust storm. McLaughlin, now a news anchor for Channel 5 (KPHO), said he didn't remember using the term. He remembers forecasters on other stations using it, including his predecessor at Channel 12, Bill Austin. McLaughlin said he learned the word from "textbooks as I was studying weather."

Since 1999, this newspaper's archives show many instances of "haboob" being used to describe large dust storms. In 2000, it was on a list of words that entrants in a Republic-sponsored contest had to use in a poem. In 2005, the winning hot-weather limerick, as judged by columnist Clay Thompson, featured "haboob" in its opening line. Joe Orlando of Mesa wrote this winning limerick:

The haboob blows through here each year.
I view it with loathing and fear.
Not wind, rain or lightning
Is what I find frightening.
I hate getting dust in my beer.

Idso, now head of the Tempe-based Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, said that although he was one of the first to apply the term "haboob," he doesn't say it much. "I hardly ever use it myself," he wrote in an e-mail, "preferring just to say 'dust storm,' which is clearly more descriptive of the phenomenon."

(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
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Pondside said...

We watched those storms with horror from up here. I knew that they were called haboobs, and I was amused to hear on the news that there were people who opposed the term for the reasons you gave. To me it was right up there with 'Freedom Fries' - silly. I'm glad that saner heads prevailed! Did you manage to get your place closed up before the dust whirled?

Memoirs of Me & Mine said...

That was a very interesting post. Look out Sunday, I learned something today!

Ames said...

I have to admit that I had to go and look up the word haboob myself. It doesn't bother me to use it. Many words that we use today are derived from European word components, such as medical termonolgy.

Healthcare terminology is a specialized vocabulary derived from Greek and Latin words. By joining combining forms, suffixes and prefixes from ancient Greek and Latin words, we form words that we use in present day terminology.

Take the combining form Gloss/o which means tongue in Greek and combined it with a suffix of itis which means inflamation, thus glossitis means inflamation of the tongue.

Adding a prefix such as bi, which means two to the combining form of lingu/o which is Latin for tongue followed by the suffix -al you get the word bilingual "pertaining to two languages."

I guess it boils down to people not understanding where our own words are derived from.

Back to the haboobs. I have always heard living in the desert was better for one with respiratory issues. But you have a lot of agriculture in the desert and I wonder if the possibility of these haboobs carrying particles of pesticides and herbicides is a real concern.

Thanks for clarifying the haboob terminolgy. Sorry to go all medical on you. ~Ames

Tina´s PicStory said...

Great shot! LG Tina

Ms. A said...

I hadn't heard the controversy over calling them haboobs. Was it mainly AZ that had a problem with it?

I'm curious to know what effect this had on your pool and whether this movement of dust, scratches the paint on vehicles.

Sandy said...

I grew up in Saudi Arabia and the haboobs came every season, several times.. I remember my mom running to pull the outside window shades.. we would find dust in the books on the bookshelves when cleaning weeks later...
Thank you Jenny for your visit and your sweet comments on my daughter.
Nice post

The Poet said...

For a city boy who's not used to seeing these haboobs, I find the picture quite alarming and a little scary. It looks like something one would see in a sci-fi movie! How does one ever clean up after such a storm? This can't be something healthy to live with either.

Had a jolly chuckle at the limerick.

Excellent post!

Pat Tillett said...

Great post! Very interesting also.
Isn't it really all about keeping dust out of our beer?
I gotta admit that as an outsider, they darn things look pretty scary.

Judie said...

We have so many words in our American vocabulary that originated as "foreign." The people who whined about haboob because it is "foreign" probably failed English. I'm pretty sure our governor failed English as well.

Mary said...

This is the firstt time I have seen a photo of a dust storm. It looks frightning. Stay safe.